A top aide of Rajiv Gandhi spoke in contradictory voices about the Bhopal gas tragedy, first ruling out the late prime minister's involvement in the sudden release of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson and later hinting that he may have had a role.
Former Maharashtra Governor P C Alexander, who was former Principal Secretary to Rajiv Gandhi, said Anderson's name never came up in an early morning meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) convened by Gandhi to discuss the Bhopal gas tragedy. Alexander also said senior Congress leader Arjun Singh, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, was present in the CCPA, though a chief minister was not part of the Committee. "I cannot say whether the decision (of allowing Anderson to leave India) was taken by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi or Singh... but Anderson's name never came up... there was not a single occasion when his name came up in the CCPA" which was held at 3 am to discuss the next course of action in the gas tragedy, he said.
Asked whether Arjun Singh had let Anderson off without getting any clearance from the Centre, Alexander, who resides here, said "I cannot say that." But later, Alexander said the decision on (letting off) Anderson could have been taken by the prime minister in consultation with the chief minister. "Or if you want to put it the other way, you can put it the other way. If the prime minister was there, naturally he could have taken the decision or he could have agreed with the decision," he said.
The prime minister may have directed Arjun Singh to come to Delhi or he may have been in touch with him as otherwise Arjun Singh would not have known that there was CCPA meeting. Alexander said chemical expert Varadarajan had presented his views at the CCPA meeting stating that there was no need to evacuate people as there was no imminent danger of a second leak. After the disaster, an expert committee was set up under the chairmanship of Varadarajan to review the situation. Further Gandhi was too busy with his election schedule then to take a call on allowing Anderson to fly out of India, he said.
Alexander also said he did not know why an image has been created as if Rajiv Gandhi was involved in allowing Anderson leave the country after the world's worst industrial disaster that left over 15,000 dead.